Fire, Architecture, Astronomy, Language, Time and Unity
Just before noon on July 2, 1979, the roof of the ranch house in Napa Valley was struck by fire. Two of the upper bedrooms could now serve as a sun deck. The ridgepole and adjacent parts of the roof burned off. The fire only reached down to the walls in two places. Intriguingly, one of these places was over the head of the built in bed in what is called The Lama's Room, in honor of the two known Incarnate Lamas known to have slept there at different times, Tsewang Jurmay Tsenjur Rinpoche, presently in Vancouver, and Chime Rinpoche, who lives in London. Both of these Venerable Lamas are Vajrayana Buddhists, members of the Kagyudpa Lineage--the Black Hat, or Practicing tradition, currently headed by His Holiness Bandung Rigpe Dorje, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. They had each visited the Ranch in the mid-1970e to conduct retreats in what is called the Diamond Vehicle, a practice characterized by "Meditation in Action," in the sense of "Be Here Now."
There was an old fuse box over the rainbow shaped head board. As the Building Inspector shuffled through the charred and still smoldering bit of roof and ceiling, he arched an eyebrow at the singed, dangling wires, speculating on the casus foederis, or probable cause, or in Aristotle's sense perhaps, the casua materialis, or even in a secular way the casus efficiens, the stuff and the means of the fire. Couldn't some residual Good Karma from the Lamas have prevented this catastrophe? Well, in honor of the distinguished visitors, Suzie not only gave up her room, but painted it with yellow walls and ceiling, red floor and bed, topographically the highest sleeping place in the house. Before Suzie, it had been Mary's room, decorated with little flowered wallpaper and sheer white fluffy curtains. Before that it had been the Master Bedroom, although originally the Ranch foreman lived here--back in the 'thirties, or maybe the 'twenties--before the big house on a knoll one hundred yards to the southeast had burned to the ground, and the family had to move in here. But the red and yellow, colors of the glorious Vajrayana tradition, were recently painted over with white, in the Orient the color of death.
The second place the fire came down into the walls was in the extreme northern corner of the second story. There you can see how the house was built. Behind the beaverboard surfacing are redwood one-by-twelves: but solid redwood, from the heart of the tree, prime growth and cut the full inch thick. Can't buy wood like that anymore, and never will be able to again. It is extremely fire-resistant, even having been dried by a hundred and ten years of Napa Valley sun. Temperatures here in the summer sometimes reach a hundred and ten, too. A thin, blackened V in the shape of a lightning bolt burned through the wall. The only floor damage occurred just in front of it, probably when some of the ceiling collapsed, like fiery Yods from the Tower Struck By Lightning of the Tarot deck, the Major Arcanum number XVI. Standing on this charred spot on the floor, at night, you can look up to where the walls joined the roof line and see the North Star.
Ancient, modern and medieval philosophers obsessed by the orderliness of the Universe love Aristotle because he reduced the "causes" of phenomena to four. In addition to the material and "efficient" causes were those of first and last questions. The original, Formal Cause preceded the material manifestation. Indeed, Aristotle traced it back until he convinced some others and possibly also himself that this Cause was the Prime Mover, Itself unmoved. The religious call it God. Mathematicians may conceive it as the inside edge of the curve in the Jordan Curve Theorem, when that curve is understood as marking the First Distinction. It is also known as the Void, for its order of being is zero. The fourth cause relates to the end, purpose or result. Aristotle called this the casua finalis.
The roof burned off. "Creation of the Void." Big deal! We used to have parties in Los Angeles, and if a hole got burned in the roof that would call for at least two new cases of Heineken's. The Void. Great! We can see the stars again. Helluva party.
To what end, consequence or result all this? Ah, there is the hook that has caught so many melancholic logicians, long before even the Greeks were guessing why. It may be told in the sentimental myth and lore of our progeny, that one certain summer day, from out of a cloudless sky appeared a great burst of light and ball of fire as a gigantic right index finger descended, poking in the corner of the house. Then, like the clown's popgun from which a little flag unfurls saying "BANG!" a message banner fluttered from the finger's underside, but it said instead just the simple word "MOVE!"
Movement and change are intrinsic in the world of dichotomies, the one most of us are taught to imagine as being of space and time. Among Buddhists such a world is known as samsara; among logicians the principle is recognized as dialectics. MOVE! As an injunction, what could be more clear? Yes, move out of here. Movement is action; take action. Action is karma. My so-called karma at this time is to move. “Gotta good reason, yeah, for taking the easy way out.” That certain day was my birthday--forty-five years on July the second since I had first taken the easy way out of the womb into Dr. Sperry's surgical-gloved fingers at Children's Hospital in San Francisco. Five cycles of nine years--or nine of five. In his copious volumes on mythology The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell recounts the story of the maiden Hainuwele, whose name means "Frond of the Cocopalm" among the people of West Ceram it is about the beginning of things, cannibalism, the ritual love-death, how spirits and animals came to be on this earth and how the tribes of men have ever since been divided into the Fivers and the Niners. (The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, The Viking Press, New York, 1969). Of those participating in the archaic Indonesian dance, some going to the left had to jump across five sticks of bamboo, while those going to the right had to jump across nine. But not much else is said about intrinsic properties of the numbers five and nine.
However, there is something intrinsically significant about five and nine, as plain as the palm, or the back, of your hand. One is a thumb, but we count them as five fingers. Count the fingers and the spaces between them, and we have nine. Suppose we attempt to model something fundamental as both mathematics and mythology propose to do. If we count the number of steps from the void, on the tips of our fingers: one, two, three, four, five, then we will have entered enough distinctions into this rather primitive, formal system, according to James Keys, to provide a rigorous foundation for theoretical justification of the cosmos as we know it or imagine we do. (James Keys, Only Two Can Play This Game, Julian Press, New York, 1972; Footnote 1). It is known, objectively and absolutely, that the minimum number of distinctions necessary, in the most basic calculus, in order to indicate an oscillation, a simple sinuous change, is five--whether it is called a recursive function, a self-referential equation, or an imaginary value. And that may also be why, in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, there are five of what are called Sambhogakaya or Dhyani Buddhas, ways of interior visualization of the Unity. Not that either the Tibetan texts or those of deep mathematics are usually forthright on the matter.
Lama Chime Rinpoche says that the traditional texts on mathematics and astronomy are presented in a recondite and complex cipher, accessible only to those with the most advanced training and practice who have also received special guidance and developed intricate, precise skills. For those of us who mostly lack these talents and opportunities, but who have a knowledge of the English language, there are other texts, such as G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1969 and The Julian Press, New York, 1972; with a second paperback edition issued by E.P. Dutton, 1979). Although, as James Keys points out, many including Dante and Dionysus the Areopagite have known and shown this quintessential structuring of the cosmos. Dante saw the structure of Paradise through the eyes of a divine poet, from which one of the veils of perception had already been removed; but his count corresponds with that of Dionysus, who reckoned from zip until the time came for time to begin.
And if we count not only by the tips of our fingers, but also by the spaces in between them, we add the number of states to the number of crossings for a total of nine. It turns out that this is completely adequate for the formal description of a cosmos or a calculus: from the Void, to the First Distinction, through further distinctions until we have constructed a model elegant and complex enough to represent that which we imagine as time. Of course, to appreciate just why this is the case, we might have to follow Pseudo Dionysus's mystical text on The Divine Names step by step. The analytical Introduction by C. E. Rolt in the Loeb Classical Library is rather better for this than the book itself, since the medieval visionary discusses these abstract properties in terms of angelic hierarchies and so forth. Nonetheless, the School of Chartres and the brilliant architects who invented the Gothic in the Isle de France of the twelfth century used Pseudo Dionysus like a handbook. That is why the very first Gothic church, the Abbey of St. Denis, was consecrated in 1144 by Abbot Suger as an embodiment of the metaphysics of light; the Areopagite, whose text had been translated from Greek into Latin in the early ninth century by Johannes Scotus Eriugena, became the principal conduit for Neoplatonic ideas from Proclus and Plotinus. His identity was confused with that of St. Dionysus, the leading missionary of Gaul in the third century, and so the church was foremost in secular esteem, having been the burial place of French kings since the death of Dagobert I in 638. The confusion explains why modern writers prefix the name of the mystical author with "Pseudo-." But his five-part, nine-part vision of the angelic realm is known to have had very real impact upon the architecture, design, poetics, philosophy and ways of looking at life on this earth.
Although they are internally ordered with precision}— from the point of view of us in the world of space and time, with samsaric perspective the spaces and crossings of the Eternal Realm, by nines or by fives, come into being all at once. On that other side the inside of all the technically separate states and transformations appear all together and instantaneously as a universal form:
sustanze e accidenti e lor costume,
quasi conflati insieme, per tal modo
the cio ch'io dico e un simplice lame.
Substance and accidents, and their modes, became
As if together fused, all in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple flame.
(Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia: Paradiso, Canto XXXIII,
88-90. Rizzoli Editore, Milano, 1949. Translation by Laurence
Binyon, The Portable Dante, The Viking Press, New York, 1947).
Outside of Eden or Eternity, the world of math and mystics, we complicate matters. It all depends upon where and how one makes the distinctions. We may confuse necessity or substance and accidents or chance. Inside, closer to the heart of the matter, all is necessary and eternal--there is no real movement and change. To enter these regions cleanly, without excess baggage, our imaginations must leave the notions of conventional time and apace; otherwise both the meditation and the mathematics may become corrupt and we become lost in a labyrinth.
There is no better exercise for contemplating the psychic power of the Labyrinth, than to follow the skein of memory retracing in mental steps the ground plan of a house in which we once lived. The conscious mind as the hero Theseus following the clew, the thread--in Sanskrit sutra, which is also the word for the sacred texts of Hindu and Buddhist, a scriptural narrative stringing together rules and aphorisms,"especially any text traditionally regarded as a discourse of the Buddha." American Heritage Dictionary provides an Indo-European root "syu" for the word, with a basic meaning of “to bind or sew.” In addition to SUTRA and SEW common derived words are SUTURE, COUTURE, ACCOUTER, the Latin SUBULA, an awl or sewing instrument, and curiously HYMEN, thin skin or membrane, body part, and name of the Greek god of marriage. With the combining form pteron, for "wing," is formed HYMENOPTERA, the scientific, classification for thin-winged insects, including ants, wasps and bees.
As it is warped and woofed on the loom of memory, the thread of history, particolored, weaves an intricate textile--like the knotted tapestry in Hamlet--a magic map of a place made plain. Within the space frame, the x/y plane of the Labyrinth, we weave designs, tie knots and embroider the psychic dimensions of sentiment. Many other cells of our bodies remember, in addition to those among the 1010 in our brains. We are sometimes capable of really feeling in our whole body once again the events that occurred at one specific place, when our eternal consciousness took affect from the circumstances of samsara. If at the same time we can imaginatively reconstruct the place with the full truth of memory and precise insight, we may witness a spectacle: the fascination of seeing or own psyche in its processes.
This is a well-known and widely-used, archaic and contemporary technique of psychic integration. It happens in successful Gestalt sessions as in shamanic seances, with the neutralization of psychic charge and the consequent release of tension. The aversions and attractions of our minds and the physical manifestations of tension and pain that are now popularly known as karma can be annihilated, burned away by the equalizing, clarifying flash of insight characterized as a bolt of lightning. This is the true meaning of Zeus' and Indra's thunderbolts, Poseidon and Shiva's tridents, the firebrand of Odysseus in the cave of monster Polyphemus, and the bronze sword of Theseus, who goes on to found Athens by law after slaying the Kretan Minotaur, demon of unconsciousness as the bastard hybrid ego is to our essential being.
When I was a teenager, I remember being particularly impressed by reports of an automobile accident in which a car was "totaled." The word held a morbid intrigue: how could a car be totally wrecked, and yet anyone, ever live to tell about it, occasionally "walking away without a scratch?" I did not appreciate the niceties of language as applied to insurance compensation. Accidents short of "totals" did not carry interest for long, and could not be incorporated into the annals of high school myth and infamy.
A few days after the fire, having been drawn by a recurrent perversity to inspect the damaged rooms, and the adrenalin of the event having subsided, it all looked relatively inconsequential. Most of the burn scraps had been removed. In the living room, papers and books were returned to the desk, paintings rehung, the carpet again unrolled. It was a dramatic tour, entering the apparently unscathed ground floor, then to go upstairs and open the doors to either of the two rooms. Only then did the image of gaping sky where the roof had been shock the sensibilities like a memory of Blitzkrieg. Even so, the rooms had been swept clean, and the walls were marked but mostly intact. In fact, both bedrooms looked very much tidier than they had before the fire.
There were inconveniences, principal of which was the loss of electricity. The Building Inspector had said "This house is uninhabitable." We did not at all find this to be the case. Instead of electric lights, we filled kerosene lamps and, somewhat apprehensively, lit candles. There was no T.V., but it was not missed until sometime the following weekend when a fix for the Thrill of Victory came due. As a consequence of being without electricity, however, we were also without convenient water. A submersible pump, ninety-six feet down the well, was controlled by electrodes and powered by 220 volts. No power, no water.
Here is what happened. The Pacific Gas and Electric truck drove up shortly after the fire engines. As the flames from the shingle roof got close to the incoming power line, firemen quenched them with short bursts of water. Still, the upper few feet supporting the weatherhead had burned, and the lines themselves, although intact and serviceable, were cut. I did not appreciate the finality of that disjuncture. It was PG&E who "totaled" the house. The place was uninhabitable, not because a big hole was burned in the roof--those rooms could have been sealed off until repaired--but because it could no longer be serviced by electricity. On the job to protect his company's property, the PG&E man removed the meter, and with it our privilege to consume and to pay.
In stubborn resistance to the wiles of fortune, we began to negotiate for the installation of a temporary power pole. Not quite so easy, as it turns out. For TPPs one must obtain a County Building Permit. Ten bucks cash, on the occasion of a personal visit, and the clerk of the Napa County Conservation, Development and Planning Department threw in for free a Xeroxed manuscript, "Minimum Requirements for Customer Owned Service Poles," amounting to six pages of text and sixteen figures of technical drawings. In addition, there was a page on "Temporary Underground Electrical Service." I should have taken the hint.
No, PG&E didn't ordinarily furnish customers with poles. They could be made up by an electrical contractor and pur‑ chased or rented. By then it was Thursday, and they didn't know if they could get a man to deliver it (for thirty-five extra dollars) before the weekend. The pole had to be installed before it could be inspected. It soon became clear that the cheapest and easiest way at least appeared to be digging our own hole--but not just anywhere, A very cordial young gentleman arrived by appointment in a PG&E sedan to indicate a place that would be acceptable,for them.
We dug: a minimum or four feet deep, through soil, bamboo roots, gravel and clay, after a day spent finding a post hole tool.
The Labyrinth is architecture. According to the myth, about Krete, but told by Greeks, the demigod Daedalus, patron of arts and crafts and the inventor of architecture as a kind of heroic Hermetic culture-bringing type, receives the first commission: to construct a magical prison for the Minotaur. No ordinary one would do, for the Minotaur is a magical beast. The Argentine poet and mythophile Jorge Luis Borges suggests his name may first have been "Asterion,” or creature from the stars. Picasso's magnificent lithographic series shows him with a man's body and the head of a bull. No ordinary bull--the bull head of the hybrid is that part which is divine, a wrathful emanation of the god Poseidon. That is how the Minotaur appears on ancient Kretan coins, too, frequently shown with the well. known glyph of the Labyrinth, and sometimes also with a single flower, or rose. Walt Disney plumbed the popular, perhaps the collective, unconscious with Ferdinand, only there the Labyrinth, site of the Great Encounter, became the circular corrida de toros, the modern bullring.
It may very well be true that among the first, prehistorical works of architecture as a collective building process was the Labyrinth as a fenced trap or corral into which wild herd animals could be driven for capture and eventual domestication. It is thus a specific conventional token or symbol that comes down to us from the common cultural heritage of our neolithic past. It is not utterly improbable that the interpretation of some abstract, lineal, geometric cave markings, dating from 10,000 B.C. back to around 35,000 B.C. as a sort of labyrinth may be correct. Imaginative prehistory makes the giant cave bear into the Minotaur. Indeed, there are extraordinary finds, as at Drassenach, in which the bones of cave bears have been found, deliberately and inventively worked, undeniably by human consciousness, into sculptural power objects, we suppose, ritual objects associated with the hunt or souvenirs from the original co-inhabitants of the cave. The underground, chthonic darkness of the cave is inescapably associated with the idea of the Labyrinth.
There is a cave on Krete, identified by local tradition with the grotto of Gortyna, in which the infant Zeus was supposedly nurtured by Amalthea and the nanny-goat nymphs. Only here the myth is inverted, and the danger is placed outside, a threat that Kronos, or Saturn, the cannibal father of Zeus and First King of the Golden Age, would consume the future King of Olympus to avert the prophecy that he would be castrated and succeeded by his own son. The panel by Francisco Goya from the Quinta del Sordo and now in the basement of the Prado in Madrid shows the scene, "Saturn Eating his Children." Saturn was put off by a ruse, of course, when a stone done up in swaddling clothes was substituted for the baby god, whom he found despite the dancing and clashing of armor by the priestly Korybantes, intended to baffle and decoy the thunderous infant's cries.
When Odysseus sees the Labyrinth, it is carved into the wall of another grotto, near Cumae on the Italian coast, at the entrance to the abode of the Cumaean Sibyl. Michelangelo shows her on the Sistine Ceiling as a venerable hag, perhaps the oldest and most venerable among the oracular spirits of the Great Mother. To her properly belongs, as the scholar Charles de Tolnay points out, the quality of divine mania with its terrible clairvoyance that later classical tradition came to associate with the Pythoness, the priestess Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. We know how the Delphic Oracle got off: organic dope. Under the Sacred Tripod, upon which sat the priestess, always female--as were originally all prophetic and clairvoyant oracles, all associated with the spirit of the Earth itself as Great Mother--leaves were burned: those of Apollo's bay laurel, which produce an intense psychotropic rush, and also of much cannabis, as a matter of record one of the oldest substances in the global pharmacopeia, the analgesic and soporific effects of which have been appreciated for millenia by the rich and especially by the poor. For these leaves have always been regarded as a boon of the earth, a gift of the gods, to be used for the relief of suffering by all of humanity as it were, by the grace of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
It is the Cumaean Sibyl, too, whose prophesies are written on the leaves of trees, then sent scattering to the winds. It is she whom Dante cites in the last Canto of Paradiso:
Cosi it neve al sol si disigilla, cosi al vento nelle foglie lieve si perdea la sentenza di Siballa.
(Even so the sunbeam doth the snow unseal; So was the Sibyl' saying lost inert
Upon the thin leaves for the wind to steal.)
And, even closer to the end of that great poem, when Dante attempts to describe somehow what it was like when he was vouchsafed a glimpse of the Supreme Light, the Unity:
Nel suo profondo vidi the s'interna,
legato con amore in un volume,
chio the per l'universo si squaderna;
I beheld leaves within the unfathomed blaze
Into one volume bound by love, the same
That the universe holds scattered through its maze.
The early settlers of Krete were not Greek. From the work of Chadwick and Ventris we know that the archaic, hieroglyphic form of writing called Linear A was not Greek. Perhaps the island of Krete was colonized by peoples from Asia Minor, from an area known in classical times as Lydia, in the mountainous interior of what is currently Turkey. From the same or nearby region also came Poseidon, who was originally a god of lightning, sky and weather, associated with mountain tops, and whose priests were possibly consorts of the Great Mother as the goddess Cybele, Queen of the Bees.
The word "labrys," from which Labyrinth is derived, is a Lydian word, later incorporated into the Greek language specifically in conjunction with the Daedalus myth. It refers to the double axe, such as the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans found painted, impressed and incised in hundreds of examples when excavating the ruins of the ancient palace of the Minoan civilization at Knossos on Krete. It has been shown how the graphic form of the Labyrinth can be generated, by a fairly elementary algorithm, or series of simple rules and step by step proceedures, from the essential points of the graphic double axe glyph--the center and four surrounding corners of a square, like the five-spot on a die.
That the graphic version of the Labyrinth appears in its unique configuration--and it is a carefully conceived figure, not one likely to be arrived at by mere chance-‑ has been an intriguing bit of evidence pondered by historians and anthropologists absorbed by the questions of cultural transmission and the possibly independent or parallel evolution of archetypal images. Visitors to Pompeii can still spy the famous example of ancient graffiti on the walls of a house, together with the words "Here lives the Minotaur," assumed to have been in sardonic reference to the tenant.
It is exactly the same figure that appears carved on rocks all around the Baltic region, in Britain and Scandinavia, probably a cultural token brought by Greek or Eastern Mediterranean immigrants of the second millenium B.C. And the Labyrinth appears carved into the rocks of northern Arizona, deeply woven into the traditional lore of the Hopi people. They refer to it as the "Glyph of Emergence," a symbol of Hopi historical origins connected with the myth of Spider Lady and her Twins, and relating to the period of time in the grand cycle of equinoctal precession when Spider Lady (the constellation Cancer) gave way to the Twins (Gemini) as the rising sign conjunct with the sun at the Vernal equinox--about 6500 B.C. This would have been about the time the natural land bridge across what is now the Bering Straits flooded, with the melting of the Pleistocene ice, the rising ocean levels separating Alaska from Asia.
In 1949 after a series of earth tremors, one of the roof tiles on the Parthenon tumbled to the ground of the Akropolis in Athens. No one had been climbing on the roof. No one had seen the back of this tile, presumably, since it was set in place two and a half thousand years ago. But there was the Labyrinth, scratched into the tile while its constituent clay was still wet. A fair assumption is that this sign had become one of a set of conventional marks used by masons and stonecutters, a signature of the Third Little Pig.
Cut into the rocks of Northern Arizona, Cumae, Knossos or Great Britain, scratched in tile, painted in Pompeii, or printed on the customary cover of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the ikon of the Labyrinth indicates a cluster of cultural teachings about the mysteries of birth and death. There is movement and change in the heavens above, and the keys are three: the sun, the moon and the stars. Much lore about the major stars, their colors, names, configurations and rising times, especially with respect to the rising sun at equinox we assume to have been passed down from the paleolithic. Now we realize that manlike creatures had some five or so million years of wandering in which to mark coordinates and make associations in the web of relative brilliancies of the night sky. The names of stars are old and common, evidence for the scientific linguist that they, as the names of God are highly resistant to change and likely stretch back to the origins of language. The constellation Scorpio is always a scorpion in China as in Egypt as in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. Gemini are the Twins for Ogotemelli of the Dogon in the Mali Republic of West Africa and for the Hopi Nation.
Where then, is the Labyrinth in the sky? Robert Graves, in his incomparable text, The White Goddess, associated the Spiral Castle of Arianrhod/Ariadne with the northern constellation Corona Borealis. The crown of stars is another of the magic weapons given by the Maiden in Distress to her hero who sets off on the Dangerous Undertaking, as Gilgamesh, Orpheus, Herakles, Odysseus, and Theseus all do, as in the Orthodox Church Christ Harrows Hell on Holy Saturday, between the time of the Crucifixion on Good Friday and the Resurrection of Easter Morn.
The dances that are part of the native lore of Britain, much older even that the introduction of Christianity in the forms of Saints Columba and Augustine, the sword and the Morris dances are performed at the time of the Vernal equinox. They are called by the name "Troy Game," or the "Trojan Game." A classical reference is in Virgil's Aeneid where the parade of youths on horseback is described: an intricate, highly ritualized, quasi-military exercise, on the order of Olympic level dressage competition today. But the dance was also performed by people, one form of it surviving as the Geranos, or Crane Dance, a popular modern folk dance of interweaving human chains. It is said that Jesus Christ performed round dances, and that the Mevlana Sufis of Asia Minor, now centered about konya, aspire to a realization of the Unity thought the ecstacy of the dance, whirling in the harmonic rhythms of the planets themselves.
The whirlpool spins in the night sky around the polestar. But the polestar does change its position. When the Great Pyramids were built, about 2560 B.C., the almost unmoving point in the sky was the star Alpha Draconis. Now it is Polaris, in the Little Bear. In another 13,000 years it will be the brightest star in the whole northern sky, Vega, the alpha lucida in Lyra, the Lyre--also called Vultur cadenson Renaissance celestial spheres, or the Tortoise, or in China, the Fair Maiden Who Works at Shuttles. After her is named the four-part symmetrical sequence of steps in T'ai Chi Ch'uan. What she actually weaves in her warp and woof are the algebraic coordinates of Chinese circumpolar astronomy, very likely calculated from a time when Vega was the polestar, around 12,500 B.C.. This was a time of the global culture known as the neolithic--named with typical scientific materialistic bias after the hardware, specifically the then new techniques of polishing and grinding stone. The whirlpool of slurry polishes the mirror and lens.
The Pleistocene icecaps were melting with great migrations to follow, of plants and animals and human beings. For at least two and a half million years the principle of a home base, a relatively fixed campsite, was the key to food sharing, the evolution of language and the development of tool-making. It is widely held that a division of labor came to prevail in the late paleolithic, that hunting activities were conducted by men, and gathering by women. The working of stone into very fine blades for knives and spear points was capped by an extraordinary invention that appears toward the end of this period, the bow and arrow. With this innovation, man began to wipe out all of the larger mammals who learned too slowly that the range of an arrow is further than that of a thrown spear. The critical element in the bow and arrow, as a unit, is the string. The twilling and braiding of string, twine, cord, and thread surely antedates the appearance of weaving. But with bird's nests and palm fronds, there are a host of natural models for matting, knotting and interlace. Archery and textiles are two major contributions to the prehistory of humanity.
Among northern Europeans, the mythic inventor of the braid is another Hermes/Culture Bringer type, Odin or Wotan. He catches three hairs from the tail of the nightmare. And with these, hairs from her very own tail, he braids twine, presumably ties a lasso, and subdues her. Wotan is also a Hanged Man, as in the Major Arcanum XII of the Tarot--he must hang on the sacred Ash tree for nine days and nine nights, and then, one-eyed (that is to say, having achieved self-recognition, symbolized by the opening of the Third Eye), he receives for the benefit of mankind the knowledge of the runes, the technology of writing, which he carves on his staff of ash wood. In grooming a horse, combing out the mare's nests in a horsetail is an exasperating task. One knows that the knots can be, in theory, all untied, but the naturally formed braids and twills require painstaking diligence. When these principles had been grasped, baskets were woven for gathering, and blankets for the bed.
Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic
Myths about the origin of writing are particularly fascinating for those of us who write--and read. That order should be inverted. Reading comes first: the perception of iconic signs, and then the formulation of a system, or conventional means for writing them down. That is why pictograms are acknowledged to have been the very earliest forms of writing, the signs then developing progressively abstract forms and symbolic rules. The evolutionary sequence is presented on the famous Rosetta stone: the archaic form of Egyptian hieroglyphs, their stylized later form as demotic script, and a translation of the same text in Greek, a fully abstract, alphabetic mode of writing. A similar sequence is postulated for the relationships between Linear A and Linear B and Greek by Chadwick and Ventris in their brilliant study of ancient writing from Krete. One reads the pictures, seeing the image all at once, the pictorial elements side-by-side as it were--in the terms favored by James Joyce, “nebeneinander” while the elements of written script follow in order, “nacheinander,” and are read one after the other. We preserve this understanding in the catch-phrase of popular American education, "reading, writing and arithmetic," which is of course known to all as the Three R's, and are so spelled, "Readin', 'Ritin', and "Rithmetic." First, things taken one at a time: the icon, the image, the vision, the Mudra. Second, things taken two at a time: the symbol, which implies a relationship and hence an order or sequence. Third, things counted, that is successively compared to the original as was the symbol.
Wotan is one of the hanging gods, and is associated with horses, the Third Eye, the Ash tree, the number nine, and so forth. As a figure of Nordic and Germanic myth, he combines attributes that are distributed somewhat differently among the Olympian dieties. His ash tree is associated with Zeus among the Greeks, horses with Poseidon, and Wotan's important function as a bearer of new culture with the similar role of Hermes and his more human, heroic manifestations as Perseus or Cadmus, to both of whom are given writing systems as magical gifts. The nightmare and beast of the labyrinth can both be seen in the Face of the Gorgon – which appears as Athene’s aegis and on the crane-skin bag of Perseus carrying letters of the Alpha/Beta to Myceanae.
That he is credited with the invention of braiding, making rope, twine, line, is significant in his aspect as culture-bringer, for connected with this technique is the gift of writing, the runes. Modern language analysis recognizes three elemental components of the written word. The lexeme concerns the nature of the word as it is written. The sound of the word as read, or more properly, as spoken and heard, is referred to as a phoneme. And the semene is the sense or meaning of the uttered sound, without which there are just noises and not a spoken tongue. Even though there are plenty of sounds, the sense of which seems unfathomable, it has been written that "there are no nonsense syllables in Joyce."(Campbell and Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake, The Viking Press, New York, Compass Books Edition, 1961, p. 360). It is these three components which are braided together to form a syntactical language, initiating history, strictly considered as record keeping in written form. Something seen, a name called, a functional relation understood.
What goes underground when the written word appears is the far more venerable oral tradition. But it does not disappear--indeed, technically it cannot disappear: the oral tradition is always invisible; it exists in the same domain as music and memory. Memorization is the practical exercise for study of the oral tradition. When modern teachers criticize rote memorization, they further the prejudice of the written document, undermining the transmission of oral cultural expressions (along with the cave art) of human culture. It may be that the technology of archery and textiles made possible extraordinary efficiencies of division of labor into hunting and gathering. It is quite literally because of this distinction that there is, technically, no architecture before the sexist economic dichotomy is supplanted as a new basis for Unity. There are scant remains of shelters, caves and campsites, but none of the large-scale collective building projects the world understands as associated with the practice of architecture.
The phenomenon appeared in history when the two, formerly separate constituent parts of the word itself came together. "Architecture" is formed from two Indo-European word roots. The first part is from “arkw,” meaning the bow and arrow, or possibly the both together, as a unit. And the last part of the word is from the root “teks,” which means to weave, and is found in words such as textile. Plainly, the bow and arrow, "arkw," sublime artifact of late paleolithitic male-oriented hunting culture came together with the female teks, the woven basket of gatherers. The linking process is indicated by the root “ar,” which yields words like art, order, ornament, rate, reason, army, aristocracy and arithmetic; its deep meaning is "to fit together." Architecture emerges in the neolithic as a fitting together of the previously separate and specialized functions of male lineality and female net or matrix. The iconic building types which preserve this historical sense of the roots of architecture are the tower and the Labyrinth.
The interrelated phenomena of division of labor and specialization of function in hunting and gathering societies produced amazing abundance. It is reckoned that the high paleolithic was indeed a time of affluence for efficient bands of about twenty-five people, associated in clans of around five hundred. Anthropologists concur with mythographers in identifying this period with the Golden Age of mankind, when the average work week was only some twenty-five hours--the leader of the band, with more mouths to feed and greater power and pleasure, more talent and motivation, perhaps putting in a full forty hour week. This was the Golden Age, when human beings in general had more leisure than ever since. And with the global population so relatively small, the constraints of natural ecology to abundance were local and temporal. When the seasons changed the game populations slowly shifted, new plants fruited over the ridge and beyond the bend. Water holes, lake shores, river banks, and particularly estuaries offered the optimum diversity of sustenance, and these became sites for the concentration of permanent settlements.
Wandering in the typically generous domains of freedom, skill in navigation doubtless became a functional key to survival and affluence. Landmarks, routes of passage, dangers to be avoided and wild harvests to be reaped formed a practical data base for cultural transmission. Languages developed to classify this information for human use--the Navajo language is perhaps a surviving model of this process. They call themselves “Dine,” which means simply "people," or "The People," whereas the term "Navajo" is a Hopi word, meaning "savage." The Navajo were a relatively late arriving tribe in America whose life style perpetuated the Paleolithic wandering way. Before the tragedy of Bosque Redondo in the 1860s when the U.S. Cavalry broke the spirit and structure of the old tribe, they were fierce predators with an extraordinary language of subtle and precise categories, exquisitely designed to incorporate through classification any new object, substance or phenomenon. As a cultural vehicle, this language was ideally suited to their mode of freedom in an ever-changing environment. On the other hand, the Hopis are a settled people. The town of Oraibi, on Third Mesa, east of the Grand Canyon is the oldest continuously inhabited site in North America. Imagine the scene when the savage Dine descended upon the fields of succulent Hopi corn. E ben trovato! At first the Hopi, whose name means the "People of Peace," were willing to share. Of course, continued sharing of the harvest implied the necessity of sharing the labor of farming as well. But this was anathema to the Navajo, who in their pride preferred pillage. This forced the gentle Hopis to a war of defense, which, with a superior intelligence of natural cycles and surroundings and a more disciplined purpose, they won. Nevertheless, the dichotomies persist to the present, as witness the protracted series of litigation over native land rights.
The Navajo/Hopi interface exemplifies a process characterized by the shift from late paleolithic to neolithic values in the history of global culture. The late linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf prepared extensive notes on the Hopi language, as yet largely and sadly unpublished. But reports from these studies indicate to us a curious lack of tense in Hopi verbs--there is no conventional sense of past, present and future. Rather more important is whether an event has been completed or is still in process. "Be here now, it is now." And yet, in its refinement and precision the Hopi language integrates a profound understanding of biorhythms, weather patterns and celestial periodicities. The durable kiva rituals and intricate Kachina symbolism, with sophisticated built-in mechanisms for self-correcting, function "just like clockwork."
A wandering tribe develops a certain understanding of temporality, in the flow and change of seasons, flowering and fruiting of plants, the migrating habits of game. But in order to perceive time in its abstract finitude, to mark, measure and count both the very short and the very long term durations, the recurrences, the cycles, and to note in all this regularity and repetition minute and precise modulations requires a fixed point of observation with accurate transmission of records and generations of continuity. The Navajos were free in space, but were in a sense the children or the slaves of time--among the last survivors of the golden Age--when if you didn't like what was happening where you were, then you could move on down the line. The Hopis were fixed in space, or at least had a fixed central point of reference--although their direct ancestors explored both Americas, from the arctic to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, and from Atlantic to Pacific--and thus were able to mark time. Every Hopi kiva is also an astronomical observatory, the transits of certain stars being charted through the so-called smoke hole.
For the Hopi, spatial coordinates are a basket-like mesh, applicable to the global earth as to the sky above. We are not quite accustomed to according traditional cultures with such understanding, half blinded by the arrogance of our Age of Enlightenment. Yet Sir Isaac Newton knew that the Egyptians had developed a system of geodetic mapping, based upon astronomical observation and objective mathematical reckoning. Many years before he published his own figures on the flattening of the earth at its poles he sought the data from surveyors and archaeologists measuring and interpreting the Great Pyramid at Giza. Just how he knew this is only recently becoming apparent, with publication of many hitherto overlooked or suppressed documents--the anti-mystical bias of our own Western intellectual establishment embarrassed and reluctant to admit that Newton was an accomplished initiate of an esoteric tradition. Centuries of repressive, doctrinal Christianity, from the early Middle Ages on, also generated pervasive prejudices against people of antiquity, and deep ignorance of their achievements. Despite the discreet mysticism of initiates, the Demon of Progress was spawned by the self-aggrandizing "Enlightenment," cultivating the pernicious notion that heathen and ancient alike were diabolic innocents, scarcely distinguishable from children or beasts. Now the evidence of anthropology, archaeology, and the history of language, art and science provide a more generous and truthful perspective.
The Perception of Unity
It is becoming clearer that during the neolithic there emerged a high degree of global consciousness. As the poet Gary Snyder suggests, at that time were introduced the basic cultural innovations upon which we are still coasting. Among these, perception of the Unity--celestial, terrestrial, and within the psyche of human beings--remains the most central and precious.
An appreciation of this Unity is not usually accessible to those who come to study a culture from the outside. In theory it may be possible, but, for example, one would have to learn the Hopi language - easy enough if one happens to be born into the culture, but otherwise considerably more difficult than you might imagine. And then to learn it, not just like any other Hopi, but to demonstrate such receptivity to higher teachings that one is initiated into the rituals and ceremonies, given the exercises and instruction reserved only for a few members of the community, in any case. And then, eagerness, intelligence and talent are in themselves not enough. The time must also be right for the transmission.
Some qualifications are established by the circumstances of birth, and so cannot be faked by any inquisitor, no matter how aspiring or highly-motivated. Similar constraints have traditionally applied among the Dogon and in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.
We live, however, in remarkable times. Hopi elders speak of the Third purification: the first two have already been visited upon the earth, likened to, but not identified with great world wars; the Fourth Purification, the most terrible, a time without pity, awaits mankind, animals and plants and all that is, if the warnings of our present processes are not attended to with compassion and insight. The signs, they say, have appeared: and all humanity must come together as one. The Pahana, or "Lost White Brother," following like the Hopi the path of peace, should be prepared to receive the substance of the teachings preserved by the pure, direct transmission of the Hopi people: the constants, through all the vicissitudes of superficial change, of how it really is in the heavens, on earth, and within the psyche of humanity.
In such remarkable times, the way is cleared for the revelation of what had before been secret, the full and detailed paradigm of how it really is. So too say the Tibetans, in the wake of the disappearance of that geographical, historical and political entity formerly known as Tibet. As Joseph Campbell notes with appropriate irony in the final chapter of his volume on Oriental Mythology (Chapter Nine), "Tibet: The Buddha and the New Happiness," with the invasion of the Red Army from China in the 1950s,
"suddenly, there fell upon this people an immediate materialization of the spiritual scenes of their own Hell of the Wrathful Dieties, such as must be putting to an absolutely final test the power of Mahayana Buddhist meditation to recognize in all beings, all things, all acts, mutually arising, the presence-thus come--of the Buddha."
The (Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, Volume II, p. 508)
So the Lamas, the Teachers, sprung from their lofty, icy refuge of millenia, are now set to cover the earth, spreading the teaching that "If all existing phenomena shining forth as divine shapes and radiances are recognized to be emanations of one's own intellect, Buddhahood will be obtained at that very instant of recognition." (p. 516, quoted from Bardol Thodol, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," translated by Evans-Wentz, p. 147).
And in west Africa, after decades of visiting the Dogon as a field anthropologist, Marcel Griaule attended what he thought was to be a farewell celebration. Instead, as he was later informed, the elders and most important priests had met and decided that it would be appropriate to pass on to him the "deep knowledge" of their cosmogony. All of his previous researches and publications had been based upon a level of their response to his inquiries called "simple knowledge." So instead of saying "Adieu," he began a period of formal instruction, initiated by Ogotemmeli, one of their own best informed members--the first session lasting exactly thirty-three days. This study extended from the poetic abstractions of cosmogony and mythology to "systems of signs which run into the thousands,.. their own systems of astronomy and calendrical measurements, methods of calculation and extensive anatomical and physiological knowledge, as well as a systematic pharmacopoeia... classifications which embrace many manifestations of nature...(forming) a system in which, to take examples, plants, insects, textiles, games and rites are distributed in categories that can be further divided, numerically expressed and related one to another." (Marcel Griaule, Conversations with Ogotemmeli, Oxford University Press, 1965, "Introduction" by Germaine Dieterlen, p. xiv).
Not that this instruction will have consisted of merely formal abstractions at all. For "it is on these same principles that the political and religious authority of the chiefs, the family system and juridical rights, reflected notably in kinship and marriages, have been established. Indeed, all the activities of the daily lives of individuals are ultimately based on them." (Loc. cit.)
So from 1931 until 1947 the Dogon told M. Griaule the truth, but not the whole truth. When he was prepared to receive the higher or deeper knowledge, it began by hearing the voice of an old blind man:
"God brings you! God brings you!
Greetings! How is your health?
Greetings! Greetings to those who are athirst! Welcome!
Welcome after weariness!
Welcome from the sun!" (p. 12)
And "the longest task of the first day was the choice of a place for the conversations."
In his imaginative account of meeting with Don Juan, the supposedly Yaqui shaman, last in a long line of initiates who received their teachings through the oral tradition, Carlos Castaneda's first exercise is to find his "spot" on the porch. A sense of place is the result of human consciousness articulating the abstraction of space. The insightful modern Dutch architect, Aldo van Eyck, coined the aphorism, "Whatever space and time may mean, place and occasion mean more." (In a seminar series given at the School of Architecture, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 19641g also see Team 10 Primer & articles in Architectural Design 12, vol. 32, December 1962, p. 597) Also van Eyck on Dogon architecture: VIA 1: Ecology in Design - The Student Publication of the Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, 1968). The line is a take-off on the title of Siegfried Giedeon's Space Time and Architecture).
Giedeon had the order right: space is prior to time. (G. Spencer Brown, quoting Blake in Only Two Can Play This Game). The more general third term would be "information," yielding an extension of van Eyck: Whatever Space, Time and Information mean, Place, Occasion and Consciousness mean more.
Architecture: As Space Becomes Place
Architecture emerges as space became place: the momentous occasion when human consciousness articulated space. As told by the Dogon, the articulation of space by human consciousness that produced architecture belongs to a period of "The Third World, The Descent of the Granary of Pure Earth and Death," (Ogotemelli, The Sixth Day, p. 41) Throughout West Africa, forgerons or metal smiths occupy a peculiar and profound place of social importance, transcending family, clan, tribal, and sometimes linguistic distinctions with a mesh of common lore. As with the Greek god Hephaistos, called Vulcan in Latin, the blacksmith personifies the artisan, creative energy. Just so, in the story of the Death of the Buddha, at his last supper, when he was served surara madhava ("the sweet flesh of swine," or the sweet flesh--mushrooms--favored by swine" see Wasson, Soma) Gautama the Buddha asked the blacksmith to sit in the place of honor at his right hand. Dixit dominun, domini mei, cede a dextrin meis: And the Lord God said, "Sit thou upon my right hand..." (As in Monteverdi's Vesvro della Beata Virgine, 1610).
Among the Dogon, the ancestral smith appears equipped with an iron bow and spindles for arrows. In a decisive act he aims one of these arrows at the celestial granary, an archetype of the World Order modeled after the structure of an overturned basket, hitting the center of the circle, representing the moon. "...And he wound a long thread of gossamer round the shank to form a bobbin, so that the whole edifice became a giant spindle-whorl. Taking a second arrow he attached the other end of the thread to it, and shot it into the vault of the sky to give it purchase. A whole constellation of symbols was now to appear. In the first place there was the miraculous granary itself symbolizing the world-system, set in place and classified into categories of creatures. It was the plaited basket, which its constructor had copied from the archetypal version fashioned by God, 'a woven basket with a circular opening and a square base.' p. 31).” This was to serve men as a standard unit of volume, as Tompkins and Stecchini interpret the primary practical and symbolic function of the coffer of the "Kings Chamber" in the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Griaule goes on to say that "The unit of length was the thread or the rise of the steps in the stairways, or one cubit." The ancient standard measurement of the cubit is popularly understood to have been about one arm's breadth. But apparently this length was not at all casual. It is now established by powerful documentation, by the measurements and orientation of structures themselves and by coherent, un‑ romantic interpretation, that in Egypt, before the foundation of the First Dynasty under Menen with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the standard unit of length was a cubit, called a "geographical cubit." This was a true geodeisic unit, derived from the circumference of the earth at the equator subdivided by fractions of its twenty-four hour period of rotation so that one geographical cubit would correspond to the distance the earth rotated--or, perceptually, the distance travelled by the sun as marked off on the equator-‑ in a fraction of a rotation/second of time.
But this was only one of the standards for the "cubit" built into ancient social and political affairs as into their architecture. In addition to another value for the cubit, there was also the Royal cubit—and though the differences may seem small to those unprepared to grant the human consciousness of a mere five thousand years a sense of acumen and precision, the standards indicated distinct iconologies. At the heart of the radical Pharoah Akhnaten's program of a new social order for Egypt in the 18th Dynasty was the relocation of the capitol at Tel al-Amarna. This city, entirely newly built, was sited precisely half way between the upper and lowerboundaries of the country, despite certain inconveniences and the objections of members of the court. The site was determined by computations based on the revived pre-Dynastic standard of the geographical cubit--and this was the objective, technical point of difference that distinguished the interests of the Pharoah from those of the priesthood of the god Amon, who utilized the standard of the Royal cubit for their figuring.
As an architectural conception for the Dogon, the model of the granary "was the ideal and ultimate realization of the arrangement of the anthill, which had already served as a model for men in the transformation of their underground dwellings." (Ogotemmeli p. 42) In the mythic account recorded by Giaule, Ogotemmeli, the old blind Dogon wiseman, the God Amma, the One God, created the sun and the moon "by a process "which was not the first known to man but is the first attested invention of God: the art of pottery. The God Amma took a lump of clay, squeezed in in his hand and flung it into space, where it became the earth, which extended horizontally in the four directions, with north at the top. It was a body, like a foetus in the womb, lying face-up north to south and feminine in character. "Its sexual organ is an anthill, and its clitoris a termite hill." (p. 17)
Griaule'e clear record provided valuable clues as to where this cosmic scene fits into global history. Although he may not have been fully conscious of the wholistic prowess of the esoteric instruction he received from Ogotemmeli, the European (as he insistently refers to himself throughout the text) reports, Ogotemmeli ceased speaking. His hands crossed above his head, he sought to distinguish the different sounds coming from the courtyards and roofs. He had reached the point of the origin of troubles and of the primordial blunder of God.
“If they overheard me, I should be fined an ox! At God's approach, the termite hill rose up, barring the passage and displaying its masculinity. It was a s strong as the organ of the stranger, and intercourse could not take place. But God is all-powerful. He cut down the termite hill, and had intercourse with the excised earth. But the original incident was destined to affect the course of things forever; from this defective union there was born, instead of the intended twins, a single being, the Thos aureus or jackal, symbol of the difficulties of God."
Let us interpret this transcript in the light of the present state of the art in the academic disciplines of history, mythology and archaeoastronomy, as represented by the studies of Joseph Campbell, Giorgio de Santillana, Peter Tompkins and Livio Catullo Stecchini. (The Masks of God, Hamlet's Mill, and Secrets of the Great Pyramid, res‑ pectively).
The mudra, or gesture, of Ogotemmeli crossing his hands above his head is shown in the cover photograph of the Oxford paper edition (1972). God's blunders can be associated with the precession of the equinox, the relative position of the sun with respect to distant stars, as measured on the one of two days in the year in which the day and night are of equal duration. The Vernal equinox, half way between the midwinter and the midsummer solstices, appears to have served as the archaic point from which astronomical and calendrical times were marked. But as we know, and as our forebearers obviously knew, this point, objectively observable, lags by about one degree every seventy-two years, or "precesses" with respect to the apparent direction of the sun through the zodiacal constellations. This is caused by a nutational wobble in the rotation of the earth, likened to that of a gyroscope or a spinning top (or spindle-whorl), which while rapidly spinning about its own axis also slowly begins to describe another rotation of the axis itself--actually a tight helix--until it wobbles around and around, and finally falls down. Ancients apparently have timed and mapped this down-falling with precision, and marked it as a major event in the conjunction of heaven and earth. The entire cycle, in which the sun will have appeared in each of the twelve zodiacal signs, as it moves now from the Age of Pisces to that of Aquarius, is traditionally reckoned as 25,920 years.
The current astronomical computation of this nutational periodicity is something like 25,878 years. It is unlikely the rate is slowing down as the top of the earth wobbles toward ultimate toppling. But the number 25,920 is a magic number; it appears with related and component numbers, replete in the kings lists of ancient Mesopotamia, in the Old Testament, and in Norse and Iranian mythology, in the Vedas and in Hamlet. Approximately every 2200 years the sun appears in a new astrological sign of the zodiac, symbolizing the event called variously Armageddon, G8tterdammerung, or the end of the kalpa. This cosmic catastrophe, when the formerly exalted zodiacal constellation was understood to have plunged into the abyss, the night sky of the southern hemisphere, was of particular note when the vernal equinox shifted from Cancer to Gemini, the Twins in Ogotemmeli's reference. The observable significance was then the crossing of the ecliptic, or the apparent path of the sun through the sky, with the Milky Way. The Twins indeed may be taken to indicate an understanding of and distinction between the ecliptic and the celestial equator, those stars lying on an imaginary plane formed by extension of the equator of the earth.
De Santillana equates the Golden Age with the time when the vernal equinox was in Gemini, (and) the Milky Way represented a visible equinoctal colure; a rather blurred one to be true, but the celestial North and South were connected by this broad arch which intercepted the ecliptic at its crossroads with the equator. The three great axes were united, the galactic avenue embracing the 'three worlds' of the gods, the living and the dead." (Hamlet's Mill, p. 258). The time of the precession of the vernal equinox into Gemini would correspond to about 6500 B.C.
The long cycle, of the big, BIG whirling in the sky, corresponds to the 25,920 years of the precession of the equinox. The number appears in Sequence 2711, Handbook of Integer Sequences, N.J.A. Sloane, Academic Press, 1973 p.181) the very sequence the author mysteriously cites in his pungent introduction as possibly useful in the instance of interstellar communication, "when the first signals arrive from Betelguese, ...(as a) friendly beginning." It is identified as a sequence of "Non-cyclic simple groups," based on the first step: 1, 60, and includes the number 360—related to the number of degrees in a circle. The sixty value was known as a fundamental unit in ancient Sumer, called the “soss,” being the product of six (used in the computation of celestial phenomena) and ten (used as a standard for secular earthly measure).
Within this grand cycle, there were the annual rotations of the earth about the sun--or, as the sun appeared from the earth, from the vernal equinox through the seasons of the year around to spring again. It is with this order of magnitude that the image of the labyrinth is associated. The number of steps, or paths in a labyrinth drawn in the classical way, is thirty-six (six squared, a tenth of 360). But Theseus goes into the labyrinth and comes back out again, retracing his steps as there is really only one route, with no forking paths. Twice thirty-six is seventy-two, the number of years required for the sun to precess one degree (1/360 of a complete circle).
The apparently symbolic remark by Ogotemmeli about being "fined an ox" very probably refers to the next constellation to precess before the sun at the vernal equinox following Gemini. That would be Taurus, the Bull, or Ox. And the excision of the termite hill by the one God continued to be reenacted as a puberty rite for girls among the Dogon, among whom the birth of twins is also held to be of extraordinary significance. The taxonomic name of the jackal, Thos aureus relates not only to the Golden Age, but also to the name of the Egyptian god Thoth, patron of magic and science, wisdom and the moon, with the head of an ibis or a baboon--the "difficulties of God," among other things, menstruation and eclipses. Also, in Egypt Thoth was frequently accompanied by Anubis, always jackal-headed, as god of the cemetery (or the watery depths of the southern celestial sphere, in which could be found the constellations Cetus, the Sea-beast, the Argo, Delphinus, Pisces, the River Eridanus) and guardian of tombs. De Santillana identifies the whirlpool with a specific group of stars in the sky, the “spiral castle” called zalos, at the foot of Orion, close to Rigel (Arabic for foot) (p. 210).
That this is not mere fanciful projection may be sensed in Ogotemmeli's comment that "in the course of time women took down the stars and gave them to their children. The children put spindles through them and made them spin like fiery tops to show themselves how the world turned." (p. 16). Whatever the psychic and celestial referents of this creation myth, we have the art of pottery, and specifically basket weaving and the bow and arrow intimately conjoined with architecture as a model of the world-system. All of this the Dogon associate with an historical time some six or so millenia B.C. This is the same period of the emerging neolithic, and of the archaeological remains of sites such as Jericho and the early Tells or hill sites in the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates.
Bernard Rudofsky, in his book The Prodigious Builders shows--it is presumed unintentionally--tokens of bow and arrow juxtaposed with a basket reference, in sketching the emergence of "architecture without architects," the folk tradition in building. A line drawing representing a hunt scene with bows and arrows from the rock paintings of the Saharan oasis of Tassili lies en face a photo of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde built by the Basket-maker Culture. (p. 22 ) Despite this fortuitous conjunction, we are amused at the general fragility of the associative mind among scholars, the mesh and weaving of which would be immeasurably strengthened by attention to the root meanings of keywords and to the symbolic and rigorously established values associated with numbers.
The gossamer thread wound around the God Amma's arrow, joining the order of the heavens to the symbolic architecture of the earth, is the same thread of the sutras, the lineal tradition of culture orally transmitted. This is the clew (or clue) to solving the maze of the Labyrinth. For the labyrinth is no puzzle at all in the superficial sense: there are no decisions to be made, no choice of paths--one only goes in to or comes out from the center.
The Hopi name for the Labyrinth, the "Glyph of Emergence," reveals the deep connection of the sign with the processes of human birth, in association with the periodicity of the sun. The angle of thirty-six degrees was called by a special name, “mr,” and was, according to Tompkins and Stecchini, reckoned as one of the primal theoretical building blocks of the universe. It is also related with angles of 18, 54, 72 and the 108 degrees, as they combine to form right angles or 180 interior degrees of a triangle.
As such, the right triangle with one angle of 36 degrees and the complement of 54 degrees was a glyph inscribed in hieroglyphics, and which underlay the composition of royal and liturgical representations, such as the angle of the dangle of the Pharoahic phallus.
It is the sequence of integers that provides the clew to time, imagined as a mathematician might, a lineal algebra. The cutting through of the termite hill barrier by the God Amma, "destined to affect the course of things forever,"we may understand as "The Fifth Crossing From the Void." An oscillation, a self-referential equation, an imaginary value, or time--represented on a two-dimensional graph as a sine wave curve--may also be understood as a memory function (Brown, Laws of Form, p. 61). It is through memory that the oral tradition is passed. Even in the Western world, lying beneath the superstructure of rationality and so-called objective science, there is an esoteric tradition dealing with memory. A brilliant flowering of this mnemonic teaching is documented by Frances A Yates (Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, The Art of Memory, and Theatre of the World.) She establishes connections between the alchemical and magical traditions of Bruno, John Dee, Robert Fludd and others with the structure and the function of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Of critical interest to us here is that the substance of Bruno's mnemonic exercises was the interior imagination of architectonic forms as model and guide for human memory. We must also note that in dream interpretation of modern psychiatry, architectural images conventionally signify a vision of the mind itself, i.e. by itself, self-referentially.
Architecture of memory and of the mind
If the present text were being written in the style of the usual scientific paper, we might now, with cunning rhetoric, encourage the reader to ask if there be a deeply-generalized representation of this "architecture of memory and of the mind." But we already know the answer to this question: there is. It is like a pyramid--an answer known to many through introspection or instruction. Nothing here is to be said for those who don't see it at all, or who see it another way. It is demonstrable that the pyramid, half an octahedron, with single apex, triangular sides and foursquare base, was a conscious geodetic model for the designers and builders of the Great Pyramid at Giza. It is also the case than any ordinary human being with a reading knowledge of the English language and clarity on the use of injunctions can practice an exercise called "Meditation on the Psychic Space," set down into the marked state by Oscar Ichazo and published by the Arica Institute (24 West 57th St., New York).
Some artists and visionaries have seen the form in part obscured. As William Blake writes in America, part obscur'd, this is the form of the Angelic land. G. Spencer Brown offers this quotation before the "preface" to the First American Edition of Laws of Form. In Blake's pictorial representation he presents the interior chamber of the pyramid as a psychic Space-which is perhaps the same cubical temple room imagined for interpretation of the Tarot cards as the Book of God.
As an archetypal spatial construct, the pyramid shows the relationship of the Unity, as symbolized by the apex of the capstone, with the four points of the base. These are seen as various manifestations of our real life: the sense of four directions on the horizon, the front and back, left and right of our bodies, or as in the orientation of the celestial granary, and its counterpart in the seasonal quadrature of the solar year. Abstractly, a sort of minimal meaning indicated by the pyramid is: the Unity expressed four ways.
A few years ago, while preparing notes on the Emergence of Process-Neuroarchitecture, my colleagues, Christopher Wells and Clifford Barney and I recognized a truth that has long been known to mathematicians and electrical engineers. There is a group theoretical justification for the model that provides four ways of representing the Unity.
The issue of Scientific American current at this writing (July, 1979) now popularizes the knowledge through Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games," providing some background and a clear exposition of the mapping of number on a Cartesian plane, with plus or minus real numbers on one axis and plus or minus imaginary numbers on the other. In The World of Mathematics, edited by James R. Newman, Simon & Schuster, 1956, vol III p. 1540), Cassius J. Keyser identifies the ways of numerically expressing unity, as a finite group, "Whose C(lass) is composed of four numbers, 1, -1, where i= Ö-1, and whose rule of combination is multiplication; you notice that the identical element is 1, and that 1 and -1 are each its own reciprocal and that i and -i are each the other's reciprocal."
What we seem to have taught in our Western exoteric academic education, based upon the objective, written record, the First Ammendment to the Constitution, Academic freedom, open records, for duplication of experiments and all that, is that THE Unity shall be conventionally understood as but one of those equal members of the group. To that form which is flacked as the Primal unity we assign the value (expressed numerically) of plus one, 1. But as Martin Gardner points out, "It was Leonhard Euler who in the 18th century introduced the Maxi symbol i (the first letter of the Latin word imaginarius) for the square root of -1, (asserting) that such roots are nothing or more than nothing or less than nothing but strictly imaginary or impossible."
But together with the so-called real numbers, when the rules for manipulating them were worked out, mathematicians defined the complex number field, making possible the "solution of any ordinary algebraic equation whatsoever. The field turned out to be closed with respect to the operations employed in the calculus, and that discovery gave rise to a vast edifice of mathematics concerning the functions of a complex variable." It is significant that the closed field is referred to descriptive as an "edifice." This is an example of abstract architecture. Group theoretics also provides examples or abstract architecture, whose elements are so rigorously described that they constitute process architectures.
The information structures represented in formal mathematical language all strike a balance between the essentially esthetic preoccupations of elegance and rigor. To put it in practical terms, points are given for brevity in Ph.D. dissertations in the exact sciences. But the results must be true with respect to some acknowledged criterion, convention, rule or law. The technical, highly formal laws providing a full theoretical justification for the use of imaginary numbers were first published in Great Britain in 1969 by G. Spencer Brown, Laws of Form (George Allen & Unwin). Now we know that if we choose to represent the Unity numerically, which is, of course, not the deepest level upon which to mark indications of the Unity, then we have four ways in which to show this: not three, not five but just and forever four.
Four is four,
One in three is five is four.
Two is three, is five is four.
Three is five is four.
Four is four, sicut erat in principio, cet nunc, et nearer, et a saecula saeculorum.
Five is four.
Six is three is five is four.
Seven is five is four.
Eight is five is four.
Nine is four, and so is zero, also, true, love, gold, moon.
Imagined as a three-dimensional figure, the simplest geometrical regular solid, the tetrahedron, each of whose sides is an equilateral triangle is a manifest model of the Unity as quarternity--the level of complexity required for numerical representations. We can say that the process architecture of the complex number field can be represented on a plane by a Cartesian coordinate system, and in three dimensional space by a tetrahedron. This suffices for counting the number of steps inward in Eternity down to the space of the First Distinction, which Brown calls "the form." But zero is not a member of the group, except in that the number of letters in the word ZERO are four.
Therefore, if we wish to have a complete model of Eternity, we must have a counting--they may be of formally distinguished states which do not require numbers to be recognized—based not upon this one,(1), that one (-1), or one of the other ones (i, -i), but upon rather the understanding that it is in the initial process of distinction that we must recognize the Unity, provided that we introduce a law saying that "We take, therefore, the form of the distinction for the form." Having done this, we may further, more deeply still, see that it was from a prior state of Unity in which no distinctions had been made whatsoever, and which is devoid of any characteristics, called the void, or in the terms of religious history and practice, God, the Holy Spirit.
The First Distinction is God the Son. The Blessed Trinity, and Buck Mulligan’s three eggs in a pan: of three divine natures, of one divine Substance. But the model we will need to show the four numerical ways of representing Unity, together with one element that is understood to indicate Void, where everything is not only not counted as one because counter and counted are one, as are nothing, zero and the number one, all things, thoughts, without distinction whatsoever.
“The form is void, and voidness is itself form.”
(Prajnaparamita Hridya Sutra, "The Heart Sutra," tr. Lama Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche and Francesca Freemantle)
Kurt von Meier